Mérida, April 6, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan authorities are expecting the return of up to 15,000 migrants in the coming days as coronavirus cases grow elsewhere in the region.
Local government spokespersons at border states reported large flows of migrants returning to the country over the last week, including 1,600 in over 20 buses from as far away as Ecuador at the popular Táchira State crossing with Colombia, 160 from Colombia at the Apure State crossing and 80 from Brazil at the Bolivar State crossing.
A migrant “caravan” of up to 5,000 people is also reportedly walking over 550 kilometres to return to Venezuela from the Colombian capital Bogota.
Thousands of Venezuelan migrants seeking repatriation have also signed up on embassy-organised lists as part of the government’s Return to the Homeland program. One hundred Venezuelans were flown home from the Dominican Republic last week, while requests for flight permits to return citizens stranded in the US and Ecuador have been rejected by Washington and Quito.
All of Venezuela’s land borders are currently closed as part of the national lockdown imposed on March 17, but exceptions are being made for coordinated “humanitarian” openings to allow migrants back home. On Monday, the Venezuelan government announced a night-time curfew from 4PM to 10AM in some border regions, as well as fingerprinting ID and police and Interpol checks for returning migrants, to avoid "chaos" and ensure public safety at the crossings.
On Sunday, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro welcomed the citizens back home, promising to provide social care for them.
Vice President Delcy Rodriguez likewise declared that all returning migrants are to be subject to quick COVID-19 tests and placed in mandatory 14-day quarantine on the border, with accommodation, food, and medical costs covered by the state. People are also asked to register with local health authorities and their communal council upon arriving at their final destinations.
As of Sunday evening, Caracas had 159 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 52 patients recovered and 7 deaths. In comparison, neighbouring Brazil had reported 11,721 cases with 516deaths, Ecuador 3,747 cases with 191deaths, Peru 2,561 cases with 92deaths and Colombia 1,485 cases and 35 deaths.
Venezuelans abroad have joined millions of migrants across the world that have been left jobless and without social coverage after lockdowns paralysed most economies in March.
In Colombia, where a reported 1.8 million Venezuelans live, a pre-coronavirus report indicated that 90 percent of the migrants have “informal employment” and “live from what they produce on a day-to-day basis.”
As a result, hundreds of Venezuelans abroad have reportedly been evicted from their homes in the past two weeks, prompting Caracas to call on the United Nations to “intervene.”
In Bogota, Mayor Claudia Lopez has drawn criticism after she failed to block a mass eviction of 200 Venezuelan immigrants, prompting a number of protests in the city’s main squares. Other mayors have promised to prioritise Colombian’s social coverage over Venezuelans.
Similar cases have been recorded in Ecuador, where 200 Venezuelans were reportedly evicted from temporary accommodation in Guayaquil by local police last week after fears that hygiene standards were not being met. The Ecuadorian port city is a popular migration destination for Venezuelans and has been one of the worst-hit cities in the region.
Venezuelans in Peru have also reported xenophobic treatment caused by the outbreak, with Nicoletta Sabatino, who was evicted last week, telling authorities in Surco that “Someone told [the landlord] that I had coughed during the night. The owner said that I had to leave, people are very afraid to rent me anything.”
According to UN estimates, over 4 million Venezuelans left the country since 2015, with most migrating as Venezuela’s economic crisis deepened after 2017. No data has been compiled concerning the number of Venezuelans returning to the country before the COVID-19 crisis.